Visiting U.N human rights envoy for Myanmar Tomas Quintana held talks Sunday with government officials and ethnic rebels in northern Kachin state where fresh fighting threatens to mar President Thein Sein's plans to sign a permanent nationwide ceasefire agreement.
He met separately with Kachin’s Chief Minister La John Ngan Hsai in the state's capital Myitkyina and with leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in Laiza, a rebel stronghold along the Myanmar-China border, officials said.
The meeting took place as the government beefed up military reinforcements around Laiza following deadly clashes that erupted last week after a brief respite, reports said.
Two KIA-controlled frontline posts that served as "protection" for the group's Laiza base were seized by Myanmar government troops after heavy clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Kachin News Group reported on Thursday.
No findings yet
Quintana, who is the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, did not offer any of his findings yet following the Kachin trip, which also included visits to camps located in rebel areas that are sheltering refugees scrambling from war-torn areas.
“The government as well as the KIO have shown willingness to let us visit the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps around Laiza and that is where we are headed to," he said before proceeding to rebel stronghold.
"This trip is very important for my role," he said.
"The people in these areas have suffered a lot from the fighting and I’d like to hear their voices too,” said Quintana, who arrived last week on a six-day final official visit to Myanmar to assess the current human rights situation in the country and follow up on his previous recommendations.
La John Ngan Hsai said he discussed with Quintana prospects for coordination of relief efforts for refugees outside government-controlled areas.
"We are making our best efforts to provide in the IDP camps stability, health, education and housing opportunities for all the refugees with the help of NGOs as well as the authorities," he said.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), is the only major Myanmar rebel group that has not yet signed a cease-fire pact with the government.
In October last year, the government and Kachin rebels failed to nail down a permanent cease-fire accord, but signed a new agreement aimed at reducing hostilities and laying the groundwork for political dialogue.
Government peace negotiators are scheduled to meet with key ethnic rebel groups in Hpa-An, capital of eastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state, in March to lay the groundwork for a nationwide ceasefire agreement and crucial talks that could lead to a federal system of government giving ethnic states more powers.
Quintana on Friday visited the volatile western Rakhine state, where Buddhist attacks on the Muslim Rohingya population have left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands displaced since 2012.
He faced protests by scores of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who accused of him being biased in his reports which they said were in favor of the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas, who have borne the brunt of violence in Rakhine, are considered illegal immigrants by the Myanmar government even though they have lived in the country for decades.
The U.N. considers the Rohingyas as among the most oppressed groups in the world.
Quintana visited the prison in Rakhine's capital Sittwe and refugee camps housing thousands of mostly Rohingyas who were displaced by clashes in the state. He also held talks with government and community leaders.
He will hold a press conference in Yangon on Wednesday before returning to Geneva, where he will present his final report on the rights situation in Myanmar at the Human Rights Council on March 17.